Nonprofits take notice — Times they are a changing. This article about the recent press conference by Mick Mulvaney about realignments to the Federal budget under the new administration illustrates the new day for funding. The comments and the philosophy behind them are more focused on outcomes and measurements than has ever been the case. Whether you like what is happening or not; whether you think the new requirements on measurements are just or not — this is a new time. If you wrap yourself in a blanket of righteous indignation and try to ignore the new way, you stand a real good chance of having your funding reduced. Government is not the only funder looking for measurable outcomes and results. Corporate funders are doing the same. You have probably already acknowledged that competition for funding is stiff. So, if you are going to compete effectively, you will need to become even more astute at utilizing measurable outcomes and deliverables in your programs and projects.
People often ask me “What do you do?” or “How did you learn to do the work you do?” This version of my bio answers those questions and provides insight into why I built a business around helping people with research and writing.
By the time I was in high school I had outgrown my plans to be a dancer, but I still wanted to be a writer. After being on the newspaper and literary journal staffs in high school, I decided to pursue a career in journalism or public relations (now more commonly called communications) instead of being a novelist. As I lived out my plan working in public relations for a technical/community college in South Carolina, I realized I had a knack for research (or as my mother put it, I was naturally nosy). And I found that I was skilled at communicating the results of my research in reports, articles, grants and other official documents.
For almost 25 years I sold telecommunications. But during that time I honed my research and writing skills. Selling complex voice and data communication systems to a business, government agency or organization required understanding the operations and goals of the client. Being nosy came in handy again. Also during that time, I worked with many government, education and non-profit organizations to develop grant applications and budget justifications to help them secure the funding they required to pay for the new voice or data system they needed.
The next step for me was a culmination of all the experience and skill development I had acquired. I opened a consulting firm, Leverage & Development, LLC, and began helping non-profits, government agencies and businesses with the things they did not have the time or staff or skill to do. The name of the company tells what the company does – Leverage & Development, LLC helps people leverage the assets they have (in reports, grants and other documents) and develop the ones they need (processes, programs, funding, etc.). Since 2003 I has been in seventh nosy heaven reading reports, searching out statistics, interviewing people and conducting focus groups. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to help people with grant writing, evaluations, assessments, report writing, process and program development and many other things that involve research and writing. Here are a few of the things I have worked on:
- Healthcare Workforce Needs Assessment for a 3 county area
- Outside Evaluator for 2 Juvenile Justice Programs
- Community Health Assessment for 2 counties
- Outside Evaluator for a federally funded genetic science awareness project
- Consultant/Counselor for the South Carolina Women’s Business Center
- Consultant on program development and grant writing for an entrepreneur incubator
- Evaluator and Researcher for a workforce development collaborative
I think one of the best things about owning a consulting firm that offers research and writing services is that I get to help people who are in a bind. Many of the clients of Leverage & Development, LLC come to me because they have a looming deadline and they don’t have the time to meet it. Others need information or evaluation and did not realize it until they were in a precarious position – if they don’t get it done, they lose funding or clients or partners. Sometimes the clients are just overwhelmed with the amount of information they have and how to turn it into the document they need. Occasionally another business or agency comes to me in search of a partner to round out their services on a specific project or client. So those years of working on journalistic deadlines, meeting a sales quota and helping people do more with less make me not only skilled at helping other people in their difficult situations, it even makes me comfortable.
There is no deadline I can’t stare down, no mountain of information I am afraid to scale and no blank page that gives me writer’s block.
When you choose a birthday gift for a family or close friend do you pick something good enough?
Would you return to a restaurant where the wait staff asks “Is your food good enough?” instead of “Everything taste good?”
Probably not. So why would you expect your funders, board members and partners to accept reports that are barely good enough. And why would you accept good enough for your organization when you have an opportunity to be outstanding in the reporting of your accomplishments.
I am often told by funders that they provide funding to local organizations because they know the organization and its purpose. The funders say they do not rely on reports because they are in regular contact with the organizations they fund by virtue of operating in the same community. But even though this coziness makes it easy to get some funding, it also creates artificial limitations. If you structure your reporting to only meet the expectations of the local funders who do not require much detail or measurement, you will minimize the possibility of appealing to regional and national funders and diminish your chances for larger funding opportunities. Non-local funders do not know your organization and grantors who make large donations have complex expectations for reporting. Good enough reporting keeps you local, outstanding reporting broadens your funding prospects.
Here are some things that will make your reporting outstanding:
- Include measurements that matter. Say your goal is to increase the number of students that graduate from high school. The appropriate measurement for your reporting is the number of students that graduated, not the number of ninth graders who got tutoring at your after school center. Including statistics for activities along the path toward your goal (number of ninth graders tutored, number of parents trained, number of PTA speeches, number of eleventh graders who improved grades, etc.) can be appropriate. Reporting these things in the proper manner help you demonstrate that your strategy is working and show what it takes to reach the goal. This will justify the money, support or partnership you are seeking. But the measurement should be the one that reaches your goal.
- Treat your reports as marketing collateral. If a report is written properly it can be included in whole or in part with grant applications or partner proposals. This not only saves you time down the road; it is also a real illustration of your accomplishments. An actual report is more impressive than a description – it is tangible and more succinct.
- Match your reporting to the goals of funders and potential partners you want to approach. In anticipation of seeking funding from a foundation or agency make yourself familiar with their goals. In hope of collaborating with another organization be sure you understand their mission and goals. Then include statistics and other information in your current reports that address those goals. This serves several purposes:
- Makes you look more broadly at the goals and actions of your organization or current project
- Does future work now – if you have to write a report anyway, prepare it in a way that it can be used in the future thus eliminating duplicate work
- Enhances the aspirations of your organization or project
- Illustrate how your strategy and efforts are scalable. Most funders who do not limit their funding to a local community want things they fund to be scalable. Usually funders require that a grant application and, especially, reports demonstrate scalability. Thinking about how your program can be scaled – duplicated, expanded, built on – and showing that in reporting eliminates the artificial limitation that you can only get local funding. Demonstrating scalability will not hurt you with local funders and it will certainly make regional and national funding a stronger possibility.
Some of you are probably thinking that reporting already takes up too much time, not to mention that it is annoying. Just take a deep breath and read the above bullets again. This time try to think of all the time you have spent writing a grant from scratch (because you could not use reports or anything else already written) and the frustration you felt when you did not get funding (because they didn’t see the value of your proposal, project, organization).
Bottom line – do reporting on a level that matches your aspirations not on a level that is good enough.
For 20+ years I have been helping Nonprofits and government agencies do reporting to funders (donors, foundations, government grant providers) and partners. I have seen a lot of processes and lack of processes for doing reporting. I am usually hired to help with a report because an organization doesn’t have the staff and/or time, is at the end of their frustration rope or realizes report development is not their strong suit. But even if an organization hires me, they still have to supply information. Following are the 3 mistakes that, from my experience, cause the most frustration and waste of time.
- Not tracking as you go. Waiting until the last minute to compile numbers puts you at risk for errors and omissions. Because this usually means you have to recreate and guestimate, it is likely you will over or underestimate your statistics. Overestimating could cause you to be non-compliant in your grant or to ruin your reputation with a funder – either could cause loss of funds. Underestimating robs you of an opportunity to show the magnitude of your efforts, which could also negatively impact future funding. In addition to increasing the likelihood of mistakes, it also takes a chunk of time, when tracking as you go takes small amounts of time along the progress path of your project.
- Not understanding what the report recipient wants. Speaking of time . . . this mistake can take a lot of time. If you have to redo reports or backtrack and gather information you didn’t know you needed, it will take a lot more time than it would have taken in the beginning to understand what the report recipient wants. A good way to look at it is, “pay me now, or pay me more later.” Also, if you don’t do reporting according to specification you risk losing the funding or partner or not getting future funding or necessary partners. Keep in mind that you are using someone else’s money, so their rules trump everything. One other important point. It is actually rude and disrespectful to not attempt to understand the needs of people you report to (Board Members, Funders, Donors, Partners or other departments) and disrespect will not win friends and funders.
- Putting it off until the last minute. Reporting usually takes more time than you think it will, no matter when you do it – just the nature of the beast. So, likely if you put report preparation off until the last minute, you will not allocate enough time. This will result in one or more of the following: an incomplete report, a poor quality report, working on the weekend and/or at night, other things suffering (including personal life) and, last but certainly not least, frustration. Often I am hired by an organization or agency to do or help with a report because someone has put it off. This works well for me because I make money. But it’s not the best situation for the organization that hires me. Sometimes it is best to hire an outside person to develop a report because: it is outside your ability or time scope, it will help to have an outside view or the funder requires it. But having to pay someone just because you put it off is not prudent use of funds.
During my time of helping organizations with reporting I have learned that the 2 most effective tools for avoiding these report development mistakes are:
- Include reporting in your plan (strategic, tactical, budget, etc.). Plan the who, what, when, where and how of you will do reporting. Include the cost in your budget whether it is for an outside source or for the time to be spent by you and/or your staff.
- Put commitments for the activities related to reporting on the calendar. This should include tracking, collecting, analyzing, writing, etc. If you put it on the calendar you are giving it the importance of meetings, fund raisers, vacations and other vital things. And once you put it on the calendar do not take it off; you can move it, but don’t remove it.
If you are not using reporting as a way to promote your organization and its mission and services, you are missing a remarkable opportunity. Reports to your board, funders, donors and partners often have to be done, so it makes a lot of sense to make them work to your advantage. If reports are not required, doing them anyway gives you the same opportunity to promote your work and serves as an anticipatory move that will give you an advantage the next time you make a request for funds or action.
Here are some ways that you can use reporting to your benefit:
- Show, when done to the recipient’s requirements, that you are cooperative and compliant and have respect for their needs and specifications. All things that funders, boards and partners love.
- Allow you to provide statistics and examples on how well you are delivering on the projected and desired outcomes. If you see this as an opportunity to brag instead of an annoyance, your reports will be less aggravating to do and present a positive impression.
- Provide information that will be a foundation on which you will build future proposals and requests. You write the reports, so you can decide how they are written and what is included (beyond the required elements). Use the opportunity to present the message you want them to receive.
- Supply a document that can be used for other purposes such as a press release, a separate grant, another report, historical reference or the book you plan to write.
- Offer an assessment of progress and obstacles to help your staff understand the situation and position you to inform board members, partners, stake holders, clients and even funders about things they can do to help or enhance and expand.
- Provide you and your staff with a sense of accomplishment. Seeing in print (or on a monitor) your progress and successes makes them more real and just plain feels good.
As a representative of and a consultant to small businesses and non-profit organizations I have some advice that will help you get elected, re-elected and, even more importantly, serve effectively.
First say what you mean and mean what you say. Here are a few tips to help you with this:
- Don’t cushion your statements with silly works such as “I would tell/say to you that I..” Instead have the courage to say “I will”, “I believe”, “I want”, etc.
- Don’t speak in the third person. Instead of saying “My campaign/office/etc.”, just say “I”.
- If you are going to talk about someone else (another candidate, elected official, business leader, etc.) don’t put an “a” in front of his/her name. For example, don’t say “A Joe Biden” or “A Paul Ryan”. If you use the “a” instead of just saying the name, you appear fearful, condescending or elitist.
- Eliminate the unnecessary words. Why has it become necessary to say “The American People”? What other people would a politician/candidate be talking about?
We run businesses, we use jargon like this when we are unsure or feel the need to be evasive. So when you use this language that is how we see you and we do not really want to elect someone who is unsure or evasive.
Be direct. People running organizations and small businesses like to get to the meat course very quickly. So, those of you who focus on the What and How will keep our attention longer and be more likely to get our vote. Here are some phrases that raise our suspicions or cause us to tune you out:
- Small Businesses are the backbone of the country
- Non-Profits are vital to meeting the needs of the underserved
- Women need more voice, a seat at the table, etc.
- Minorities deserve more opportunities, fair share, etc.
We know these things and we’ve heard them before. What you can and are willing to do to make them more than phrases is what we are interested in.
We want revenue/donations. This will help us:
- Stay in operation
- Hire employees
- Have something to pay taxes on
- Support your campaign
Small Business Owners and organization Executive Directors must have certain capabilities and do certain things to be successful. We are looking for candidates that have the political equivalents. We want to see:
- An actual plan
- Proof of concept
- The financials
- How you will get others to cooperate/participate/fund/etc.
- Exit strategy (justification to let you stay for a long time and/or what will you do to ensure things keep going if you don’t get re-elected)
Words can persuade. Words can hurt. Words can calm. Words matter.
Whether it’s convincing, providing services/care, managing a project or anything else in operating an agency or organization – words matter. Here are 3 ways to use words to your advantage.
Know your client’s/donor’s language
Words do not always mean the same thing to everyone. Take the word superficial as an example. To someone in the medical profession a superficial wound means something not very serious, a surface injury. Outside of the medical community, if we describe a person as superficial we think they are shallow. If we think a situation is superficial we consider it insignificant. So to an ER doctor a wound that is superficial is good; to a client whose need is called superficial by your program manager, it is an insult. If you do not understand the lingo of your clients/donors you run the risk of insulting them or being misunderstood. It does take research and listening to know the language of others, but the effort can set you apart from funding competitors and help you accomplish your mission.
Use language your partners understand
If you believe the premise in the previous paragraph then you probably think that your partners should make the effort to know your language and you would be right. However, if they don’t you will suffer. Here is an illustration: You are on the road and almost get hit by another car. You think, if we wreck it will be the other person’s fault. You may be right, but you will still be in a wreck. If you are the lead on a project/program and your partners do not understand your need, time-frame or whatever you could suffer if you do not adjust. A good truth to remember is that just because someone should does not mean they will.
Speak softly and carry a big stick
Or as my Grandmother used to say, sugar catches more flies than vinegar. If you start out using kind words you are likely to get cooperation. If you do not get cooperation then you can resort to stiffer language. If you start out with vinegary words you may get cooperation or at least action. But if you do not get what you need, you are at a disadvantage. Do you use tougher language or do you try to drop back and use nice language? The typical tactic is to get tougher. Then even if you get what you want, you usually don’t feel like a winner. And what happens next time, because if you started out with vinegary words there will likely not be a next time.
In closing let me give you an extreme example to help you remember that words matter. In South Carolina, my home state, and in some other Southern states the word “Shag” is a dance done to beach music. In England the word “shag” is a slang expression for sex. I’ll let you think of ways this word could cause embarrassment, confusion, insult or amusement. But you get the point — if you don’t understand the other person’s language the outcome will not likely be what you want it to be.
“The difference in a good life and a great life is timing.” That’s what my former business partner used to say.
Timing is the difference between success and failure, agony and defeat, yes and no. Whether it is in your personal or professional life, timing can make a huge difference in an outcome.
Here are some examples that illustrate just how important timing can be.
When my daughters were children they knew not to press me for a decision. They still remember me saying, “If you want an answer right now, it is No. If you give time to think about it, it might be yes.” I have often seen that practice in the professional world. If you press someone to make a decision before they are ready, you might not get the answer you want. If you push for a commitment on funds before a donor is ready, the result may be negative and you may have used your one chance.
A few years ago my nephew, JT, had some tough instruction on timing. For years he had been planning to hike the Appalachian Trail when he graduated from college. On May 29 JT and his father flew from Atlanta to Maine to start the trip. They had plane delays and missed flights and got to Maine a day later than they planned and because the flight they could get landed them in a different city than they planned, they had to drive 3 hours after landing. The Appalachian Trail actually begins at the top of a mountain and that part of the trial is closed when weather is bad. Well, since the weather was stormy my nephew and brother-in-law had to hike the second leg first and the first leg second. (Nothing like not starting at the beginning to get you disoriented). When they did hike the first leg, JT hurt the tendon in one of ankles. Of course he hiked on. A few days later he was attacked by the dog of another hiker while in a camping site. The dog tried to take a piece of his leg, but my nephew fended him off. However, the dog was persistent and finally clamped down on his arm. JT left the camp site and got to a lodging area where the owners helped him clean and bandage his wound. The next day he went to the emergency room and had both the ankle and dog bite checked out. The wound wasn’t bad and the doctor gave him antibiotic ointment. They x-rayed his ankle and found that it wasn’t broken, but was sprained; the doctor said he needed to rest it. So, JT rested for a couple of days, not the way he wanted to start his 2,180 mile journey. After a few days, he got back on the Trail, but compensating for his injury made his other leg sore and caused blisters on his feet. When he got to the next “stop” on his trek he found that the food he and his dad had sent to be held for him was not there. (When someone is hiking the Appalachian Trail they make arrangements for food to be held for them at “stops” along the trail. There are very few places to purchase supplies along the trail and most hikers do not want to or have the means to get off the trail and visit a grocery store.) JT was about to enter one of the wilderness sections of the trail and had to have the food. At this point he finally decided that his timing might be off. He decided to go back home and fully recuperate from his injuries. But he learned a lesson about the wisdom of timing. He also learned that when there are signs that the timing is not right, you must heed them or suffer consequences.
Sometimes you have a good idea for a new program or service. But if the timing is wrong your good idea may look like a bad idea. If the timing is off, you just cannot make up for it with determination, passion and eloquence. You have to do your research before starting something new – research is preparation. You also have to be prepared to take another path if the first one is blocked or maybe even delay starting at all when you see the signs that the timing is not right.
One last illustration about timing. In 2001 I attended a meeting. I felt compelled to later contact the speaker and ask to meet him. He agreed and we met a week or so later. Soon after, he put me in touch with the head of economic development of a county in a neighboring state. That man ended up hiring me and my then business partner for a project. I met people involved in that project who hired me for two other projects. Since that time I have done about 20 other projects and taught 5 workshops in that area. I just completed the latest one in January 2017. All of these projects and workshops would never have happened if I hadn’t gone to that meeting and hadn’t acted. There is luck, but luck does not drop clients, donors, grants or effective board members in your lap. Luck comes when you act. It is very difficult to be in the right place at the right time, if you are not some place. It is also difficult to get an opportunity if you do not take action.
Timing can be friend or foe. Pay attention to it so you can reap the benefits.
As Social Media continues to grow in reach and scope it is very important to represent your organization/agency and yourself as professional. It is important to keep your professional interactions separate from personal ones on Social Media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Much has been said said about how the wrong postings on can hurt chances for employment. The same advice applies to your organization or agency. Any posting you, or anyone who represents your organization puts online reflects on your organization. The easiest way is to keep them separate — have a page/presence for your organization and one for yourself. You may also want to make the personal one available only to friends, while the organization one can be open to the public so that you can use it more effectively to promote your programs and services.
Keeping your reputation and image positive is important everywhere. Here is one of the Actions in my book 101 Winning Marketing Actions for Small Businesses. Just replace the business references with ones that are applicable to your organization.
Action #93 Keep your reputation positive.
If you do not live up to the promises and claims you make, you will lose existing Customers/Clients or never really have a chance with a new Prospect. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the moment and say yes when you should not. Be sure that you do not sign the contract unless you know you can do everything promised and required in the manner it must be done according to the specified schedule. Remember that word-of-mouth is the best or worst friend of a Small Business; if you do fall victim to over promising or committing, people will know. Also, many government agencies and businesses can, and may, exclude you from future bidding and consideration if you fail to meet your commitments.
Remember that it is better to be known well by a few than to be known widely for the wrong reasons.
If I had a dollar for every time I could not move forward because I could not get a response from someone, I could go on a luxury trip.
If I had a dollar for every time one of my clients was on hold because they could not get an answer from someone, I could retire now.
How about you? Have you ever been held up because a co-worker, client, partner or friend would not respond?
It seems that it would be easier to get a response from someone, anyone, with all the means of communication we have today. When most people have their cell phone (smart or otherwise) with them all the time, it should be easy to call, text or email a response. And since we are all becoming more comfortable with shorthand communication (lol, BFF and other abbreviations and emoticons) it only takes seconds to respond. So, why is it so hard to get an answer, an RSVP or at least an acknowledgment?
My theory is that usually there is not enough stimulus to make someone take action. Here are some examples:
- There is no consequence or the consequence is not clear.
- Other things are taking the person’s attention and your question is not “loud” enough (i.e. squeaky wheel gets the grease).
- The person is rude or lazy and needs a prod.
- The person has a short attention span and forgets your request as soon as they see or hear it.
- The message did not make it to their mailbox or voice mail.
- Some people just can’t make decisions.
So, is there anything you can do to get that response you need? Yes!
Here is a tactic I have used effectively many times. When you make the request, state that if you do not hear from them by a specific date or time, that you will assume _____________ (fill in the blank with whatever is appropriate) and you will proceed with ______________. If it is the first time you have asked a person for some kind of information or decision, you may want to ask them once without a deadline; then after a reasonable length of time (that doesn’t put you in a bind) send a second request with the deadline. No, this is not rude. As a matter of fact it is kind. By providing the deadline, you will let the person know how important their response is and help them prioritize it among all the other things in their mind. You may also relieve them of having to make a decision if you make it for them with your assumption. Another thing to consider is all the other people that are affected if you cannot move forward; is it fair to make them wait because one person cannot or does not respond?
Here are some examples of this assumption tactic:
- If I do not hear from you by Friday at 4:00 pm, I will assume you cannot participate and move on to our next choice.
- If I do not hear from you by next Wednesday, August 12, 2012, (always provide date to avoid confusion) I will assume you are not interested in this project.
- If I do not hear from you by close of business today I will assume you will be at the meeting tomorrow and will let the committee know.
- If we do not receive a response from you by April 2, 2012, we will assume you will not be partnering on this project.
There are a few risks of using this tactic. You must way the risks and consequences of using it versus the ones of not getting a response:
- You may irritate the person you are trying to get a response from.
- You may get the reputation of being impatient or pushy.
- If you are female you may get called some unflattering names.
- Your deadline message may not make it to the intended recipient. You may want to follow up the message with an alternate method (i.e. If you send an email, follow it up with a text or phone call/voice mail).
- You could even lose a partner, client, friend, committee member, etc. But if someone reacts this strongly to a deadline the relationship/partnership was probably doomed anyway.
- Be prepared to be the recipient of a deadline when you are asked for a response. Because some people will retaliate and some people will adopt the tactic.
If you decide to try this tactic, let me know how it works for you.